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DeVos turning back clock on sexual assault

By: JIM MARTIN and Stan GARNETT
October 25, 2017 Updated: October 25, 2017 at 4:35 am
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The University of Colorado has developed a robust process for investigations of allegations of student misconduct, including sexual misconduct, in an effective manner that does not interfere with criminal prosecution.

One reason that CU and the Stan Garnett-led Boulder District Attorney's Office have been able to make this work is because under the Obama administration, the standards of proof were clear, relying on "preponderance of evidence" guidance. (CU always has used the "preponderance of evidence" standard.)

But now, thanks to the misguided views of Betsy DeVos, head of the U.S. Department of Education, all of that may come crashing down.

She favors the "beyond a reasonable doubt" approach, which offers more leeway for the accused, inevitably exposing vulnerable college women to further sexual assaults.

Using the "beyond a reasonable doubt" standard in student conduct investigations will create massive confusion about how universities should determine guilt or innocence in cases of sexual assault.

It's difficult to believe that a woman is leading this effort. Sexual assault remains a major issue confronting college students. Over 20 percent of women will experience sexual assault during their college years, according to numerous sources. This issue has gained even more attention lately, as women write "Me too" to show that they've been victims of sexual assault or pressure for sexual favors from bosses and other men in their lives.

It's an especially sensitive topic on the CU Boulder campus, given the alleged sexual assault scandals of the early 2000s as well as the current administration's questionable response to recent events when the former girlfriend of an assistant CU football coach alleged numerous instances of domestic violence.

During Jim Martin's 12 years on CU's Board of Regents, Title IX - designed to protect people from sexual misconduct at the university - was in its early stages. It not only was difficult to apply, but also was greatly misunderstood. His first experiences were with the early Title IX challenges regarding the football team in 2003-04.

DeVos is comfortable with turning back the clock to make it easier on alleged perpetrators of sexual assault and rape cases. Her plan would skew the focus onto the victim in order to protect the accused.

This goes against everything we've worked for in the past 15 years. We need to understand the importance of strong responses, both from CU and the Boulder District Attorney's Office, when there are allegations of sexual assault.

CU police and other nearby police departments must ensure that law enforcement response to such allegations is prompt, professional and effective.

Sexual assaults on campuses remain a public safety problem. Law enforcement must have full opportunity to investigate, prosecute and hold offenders accountable in order to protect the community when the assault occurs beyond a reasonable doubt.

We urge CU, as it faces conflicting and confusing guidance from the U.S. Department of Education, to not waver, to maintain a strong Office of Institutional Equity Compliance, to investigate all cases in a manner that uses clear evidentiary standards that are different from the criminal justice system, and that do not interfere with the criminal justice process.

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Jim Martin is a former regent at the University of Colorado. Stan Garnett is district attorney of Colorado's 20th Judicial District.

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